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by John Taffin


Several years ago I put forth my definition of a "Packin' Pistol." To whit: "Much of my time is spent 'packin' the long barreled handguns as they are superb for hunting, but they are not real 'packin' pistols.' To fit my definition of a packin' pistol, a big bore sixgun must be relatively light in weight, have a barrel length of not less than 4" nor more than 5 1/2", be easy to holster, and most importantly be chambered in a caliber that can be depended on to do the job. Any job encountered."

I leave the choice of action, double or single, to the individual, and I give even more leeway as to caliber, with some finding the .357 Magnum, .41 Special, or .41 Magnum to be adequate for any situation that might arise, and others deeming it necessary to be armed with nothing less than a .475 or .500 Linebaugh. However, I would guess that most sixgunners would side with me and fall right in the middle and go with the best choices as being the .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, and .454 Casull.

My continuing quest for the Perfect Packin' Pistol is one that affords much pleasure as there are so many options and the joy is in the search, the continual search, rather than in the arrival at the almost mythical goal. It is my good fortune to have several Perfect Packin' Pistols but that does not end the search. The stable always has a least one stall left.

Colt Single Actions and Colt New Frontiers have always been among my favorite packin' pistols. They do have their drawbacks. The first is handicapped with fixed sights, yes I know some do not consider this a handicap, and both have breakable flat springs. I was frustrated in my early days of sixgunning with Colt Single Actions that continually broke both hand and bolt springs. That, of course, was before such single action tuning wizards as Eddie Janis, Bob Munden, and Tom Sargis arrived on the scene.

The Colt New Frontier is one of the most beautiful sixguns to ever come from a factory. They were offered in both Second Generation form in .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, and .45 Colt; while Third Generations came in the same chamberings minus .38 Special but with the addition of the .44-40. The last New Frontier was made in the very early 1980's and we will never see them again unless there is a drastic, make that cataclysmic change at Colt.

The New Frontier comes very close to being a Perfect Packin' Pistol with the best choices being .44 Special and .45 Colt. With their heavy flat-top frame, they are a little stronger than the Single Action Army. However they are not overly strong sixguns and heavy loading of either the .45 Colt or .44 Special should be approached with caution and above all common sense. Would it be possible to come up with a sixgun with the beautiful look of the New Frontier but one that could be safely loaded with 260 grain hard cast .45 bullets at 1300 feet per second and 300 grain hard cast .45 bullets at 1100 to 1200 feet, perhaps even 1300 feet per second?

The answer is yes and it is now reality. My latest sixgun worthy of the title of Perfect Packin' Pistol is a highly customized Ruger .45 Blackhawk.

This sixgun is dubbed the Cougar by its creator standing for Colt/Ruger. I think it is a grand name and as it owner I will keep it even though this name was applied to some Ruger Speed Sixes or GP101's fitted with Colt Python barrels a couple of decades ago. I may even have it suitably engraved with my name and COUGAR MODEL PACKIN' PISTOL!

What then does one do to a Ruger .45 Blackhawk to turn it into a Cougar? First several exterior parts are replaced. The original Ruger Flat-Tops from 1955-1963 came equipped with the XR3 grip frame identical in size and shape to the Colt Single Action Army. However all Ruger .45's, be they of the Old Model/Three Screw pattern or the New Model with a transfer bar safety, have the redesigned "improved" grip frame known as the XR3-RED. This particular 4 5/8" .45 Blackhawk is one of the last of the Old Models being manufactured in 1972.

The grip frame was replaced by an XR3 version; the cylinder pin, ejector tube, ejector rod and head, all were replaced with Colt parts; the hammer was re-profiled to follow the contours of a Colt hammer; and likewise, the hammer was also checkered Colt-style. Another Colt influence can be seen with the beveling of the leading edges of the cylinder. The original sights, both fore and aft were discarded. The Cougar now wears a fully adjustable Bowen rear sight mated up with an original front sight from a Colt New Frontier.

The action has been totally tuned going the extra mile as this Ruger .45 Blackhawk now feels exactly like a Colt Single Action Army. That is no easy task in itself. The barrel has been set back and the barrel/cylinder gap set at around .002" while the forcing cone has been cut at 11 degrees.

That takes care of all the mechanics but it is the outside finish that really sets this special packin' pistol off from all others. The entire sixgun except for the main frame and the hammer have been deep blued while the screws are of the high bright fire blue color. The hammer and frame, just as on all early Colt Single Actions, are beautifully case colored.

Finally we come to the grips. I have seen some heart-stopping, mouth-watering stocks in my time but nothing that can surpass these. Of all things they are made of buffalo bone and they are virtually indescribably beautiful. They look somewhat like stag without the brown mottling and they are full of marbled color, blue, gray, black, tan, ivory, white, you name it, it is there.

The project is done and turned out beautifully but is a good news/bad news proposition. The bad news is that the master sixgunsmith that did all the work is well known for other specialities and does not want to do anymore of these. The good news is that several gunsmiths come to mind who could do the same type of work. Such names as Hamilton Bowen, David Clements, Milt Morrison, and Jim Stroh to name a few. The ideas are here presented for anyone to run with my permission and blessing.

For everyday use this Packin Pistol will probably be fed a steady diet of 260 grain cast bullets at an easy shootin' 900-1,000 feet per second while always having the ability to handle the heavier loads. It would seem that I have reached the apex of the Perfect Packin' Pistol search with this sixgun and the search will stop. Don't count on it!